Saying “no” (kindly) to parenting advice from well-meaning people

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While every new mother needs a helping hand, deciding a skill worth learning. By Ameera Al Hakawati.

WP advice by ameera (Fotolia)
Install a special filtering system in your ears to enjoy raising your children in serenity. Image: Fotolia.

Becoming a mother is quite possibly the most terrifying yet most beautiful experience life will ever bestow upon you. When you’re still getting to grips with the changes in your life, mind, emotions and body; and when you’re struggling to look after a baby that demands all your energy and attention every minute of every day; a helping hand can be absolutely priceless.

After all, you have little to no experience with babies and everything you know about raising a child has come from books, movies and vague recollections of how your mum did things when you were little. You can’t help but constantly second-guess yourself, petrified that you’re doing things wrong. It’s therefore understandable that when a friend or relative tells you what to do, you leap at the opportunity to learn – at first. Surely those with years of experience know more about baby rearing than you?

Give the newborn baby water to drink even though the midwife and health professionals advise against it? Sure, why not? Bundle the baby up in socks, hats, vests, onesies and three blankets even though the room thermometer reads 24 degrees Celsius and the recommended temperature is 16-19? Righty-o!

When you’re still wandering around in the haze of new motherhood, barely remembering what you had for breakfast let alone what the baby books say, you find yourself nodding along to everything you’re told. But the days roll into weeks: you’ve changed over a hundred nappies, finally given Baby a bath completely alone, and you start gaining enough confidence in your abilities to do things your own way. You might find yourself coming head to head with those closest to you when they realise that their opinions are no longer always necessary.

If you’ve experienced this, you’re not alone.

One of the biggest gripes all my friends had about becoming mothers was having to deal with everyone giving them unwanted advice. Everyone from their grandmothers to their fathers-in-law to even random people in the supermarket had something to say about the way they were raising their child. It became so irritating that many a relationship had suffered or even broke down because of all the constant interference.

I’ll be honest. I thought my friends were overreacting and being a tad sensitive. What was wrong with some friendly words of wisdom here and there, from those who knew far more about raising children than we did? So what if your mother-in-law liked to pipe in with her ancient ideologies every now and then? So what if your mum tried to spoil your baby behind your back? It was all out of love!

Or so I thought – until the constant critique of my own ways ceased being useful and actually became irritating and bordering on intrusive. I was hormonal. Exhausted. Over-sensitive about trying to be the best mother I could be. I didn’t need anyone making me feel inadequate. I didn’t appreciate people implying that I wasn’t raising my child properly because my opinions differed from theirs.

The constant earfuls are annoying but what’s really challenging is trying to ignore it without hurting anyone’s feelings

Having my decisions (big and small) continuously questioned and rebuked became increasingly tiring. And always being told what to do and what would happen if I didn’t listen (you’re spoiling him, making him clingy, you’ll suffer in the long run, don’t feed him this, he’ll develop a taste for sweet food, don’t put him in a routine, he’ll become too difficult, etc) was just exhausting. And annoying.

You’ll hear the phrases “Well, I did that all the time” and “I never needed that” so often that you may be tempted to sew the words onto a voodoo doll and stick your scarf pins into it.

The most difficult thing however, isn’t listening to all the meddling. Yes, the constant earfuls are annoying but what’s really challenging is trying to ignore it, or dismiss it without hurting anyone’s feelings. The occasional outburst is bound to happen – and it will happen – especially if the criticism comes when you’re feeling particularly vulnerable.

But if you react too violently, you’ll probably end up hurting someone who honestly believed that they were helping you. The last thing you want is your mother/grandmother/mother-in-law/aunt thinking that you don’t respect them, trust them, or want them to play a significant role in your child’s life.

After speaking to friends about how they’ve dealt with meddlesome relatives, I’ve realised that the only way to tackle the issue without upsetting anyone is to:

1) Pretend I didn’t hear it;
2) Nod along and then do what I want anyway behind their backs;
3) Tell them I understand their point and I will think about it (and then continue with #2); or
4) Explain that I want to try things differently and hope they just let it lie.

As tricky as it can be, if you don’t practise how to take these comments with a pinch of salt, or at the very least, talk through your own plans and beliefs in a calm and non-confrontational manner, you might end up alienating people so much so that you’re left completely alone to raise your child.

So the next time your mum decides to cut off the feet of your baby’s onesie because she thinks the clothes you put on him are too small, take a deep breath and remind yourself she’s doing this out of genuine love. Then, when you’ve calmed down, tell her that you appreciate her concern, but next time can she ask you before she decides to make impromptu alterations to her grandson’s designer clothes?

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